As the New Year approaches many people will be contemplating and setting New Year’s resolutions. Since many of those are likely to involve exercise programmes, I want to briefly cover some of the health attitude theories (Biddle and Nigg, 2000) that can provide us with important frameworks for understanding people’s motivations to undertake psychical activity and why ultimately, some people will succeed or fail to maintain those New Year’s resolutions.
Belief attitude theories tend to centre on the model of health belief (Becker et al. 1997), the theory of reasoned action (Ajzen and Fishbein, 1970) and the theory of planned behaviour (Ajzen and Madden, 1986). The health belief model suggests that a person’s beliefs about the health-enhancing value of exercise (physical fitness, psychological well-being) tends to be weighed against their perceived costs in participating in the activity (e.g. time, commitment etc) and the amount of social support (Kelly et al. 1991), which in turn will determine the person’s level of participation or subsequent withdrawal.
The theory of reasoned action and its successor the theory of planned behaviour focus primarily on the relationship between a person’s attitude to exercise and/or a person’s self-efficacy, social norms about exercise, and a person’s subsequent exercise behaviour. Both these theories suggest that a person’s intention to exercise reflects their personal beliefs about exercise (attitude), the social norms surrounding exercise (what their friends and families may think). Therefore a person’s attitude to their New Year’s resolution of beginning an exercise programme will predict the level of their participation, whether they commit to maintaining the activity long-term will also be influenced by other factors such as age and gender, (Motl et al., 2002).